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Marian McPartland With Strings: Silent Pool

Douglas Payne By

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Simply gorgeous. This beautiful, if not altogether outstanding, piano trio-and-orchestra recording is a natural for the romantic pianist Marian McPartland. Heroes like Bill Evans, George Shearing, Nat King Cole and Ahmad Jamal have all recorded with similar success in these situations – and many probably already know the mastery of Dave Grusin and Lalo Schifrin in this territory too.

Silent Pool is surely one of the best examples of how well integrated a jazz trio can become with a symphony orchestra. The success is due to both McPartland, known to millions through her popular NPR radio show, "Piano Jazz," and the arranger / conductor Alan Broadbent, who is an outstanding jazz pianist in his own right (and, currently, a significant musical presence for Nat King Cole’s daughter, Natalie). Another ingredient to Silent Pool’s success is that McPartland, rather than choosing overwrought and dingy standards, utilized all of her own material.

Much of this material is quite honestly breathtaking. Those approaching Ms. McPartland for the first time will be even more surprised at the beauty within these sixty minutes of lovely music. The pianist has performed many of these songs throughout her career – from "Strangers In A Dream," which she first did with her late husband, corenetist Jimmy McPartland, in the fifties to such improvisations from her radio show as "For Dizzy." The best of McPartland’s material reveals subtle, yet dramatic, turns of phrase from Broadbent’s orchestra. They’re especially successful on the seasonally evocative "Twilight World," "Ambiance," "Threnody" (featuring bassist Andy Simpkins) and "A Delicate Balance."

It is, perhaps, no overstatement when liner notes writer Richard M. Sudhalter quotes Broadbent’s claim that McPartland’s compositions "have truly classical qualities." Such qualities tend, inevitably, toward the romantic – but (surprisingly) never let loose any sappy queues or dramatic gestures. The solo performance of "Melancholy Mood" is a nice surprise too, an unabashed gem on an album filled with diamonds.

One can’t help marvel at how familiar and warm Ms. McPartland’s music seems. You never seem to tire of her voice (though the romantic mood of the music may outlast your mood to endure such loveliness). Even so, there’s no question that Silent Pool is one of the best and most enjoyable new releases of 1997 and, quite simply, one of Marian McPartland’s greatest recordings.


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